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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with his teammates after a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers vs. Panthers day-after-game reactions

Lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned

We’ve already seen a ton of reactions coming out of the Bucs week 2 victory over the Carolina Panthers. I wouldn’t say there were any overreactions like we saw last week, but still a bunch of emotions, some good and some bad. Are the Bucs getting better, or were the Panthers just.....not that good?

When I started jotting down my notes, I had trouble deciding which direction I wanted to take this in. I could focus on all the unicorns and rainbows that brought the Bucs their first ‘W’; I could address the minuscule 5 penalties for 37 yards, or I could highlight the 3 missed touchdown opportunities down the field.

Look, at the end of the day, we’re still practically in pre-season and the Bucs need just as much improvement as the next team. The offense is fairly brand new, and they’re still learning their new signal caller. To expect everything to be firing on all cylinders and being well greased after only two games is just flat out unrealistic.

The Bucs had every right to get hyped over this win. Fans should too. But, once the celebratory hangovers wear off this team needs to get back to work and take a look at what lessons can be learned if they want to see continued success. Especially since their hardest contests are yet to come.

Lessons Learned

After the 2 INTs in week 1, the obvious lesson learned was to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. There’s no need for high flying acrobatics or threading it into double coverage if the Bucs can simply control the game with their legs with three highly capable ground-pounders. They needed to keep it on the ground while Brady and his receivers become more comfortable with each other and figure out the passing game.

Bucs OC Byron Leftwich seemed to want to get all of his guys involved. We saw Fournette, Rojo and Shady all get involved in different situations. Two out of the three saw the end zone tallying up a total of 100 rushing yards. All three backs could’ve seen the end zone if it weren’t for McCoy dropping a pass in the 2nd half.

Here’s where things got interesting. Fournette carried the rock 43% of the time over Rojo’s 34%. Fournette seemed to have the hot hand with the most productivity, and you tend to stay with that hot hand, but I’m going to have to agree with my colleague on this one.

In an offline thread, Evan Winter of Bucs Nation said, “Figured that TD run would move [Rojo] into ‘hot hand’ category.” Yup, I agree, so it was interesting to see the Bucs sideline make the switch. Especially when they were already in the lead and running the ball effectively.

I guess it worked out to their benefit, so I’m not sure it really matters. It may pose questions heading into the weeks ahead if Fournette or Jones will get the call, but maybe that was the intent all along - who do teams prepare for?

Regardless, this is where the Bucs offense excelled and need to continue to focus on to keep the engine running. They now have 3 full-featured backs to do so. It’s not great for fantasy value, as they undoubtedly have the best running back committee in the NFL.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul celebrates after recovering a fumble against the Panthers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I briefly want to touch on the defense. There actually weren’t many lessons that needed to be learned from last week. The goal was to shut down McCaffrey the same way they shut down Kamara and Thomas. In my opinion, they did just that.

“Run CMC” was fairly limited from his full potential being the only featured back in Carolina to 97 yards. We saw more production from Suh and JPP as we anticipated. We also saw huge plays from Davis and Whitehead in the secondary, which were huge lessons learned from week 1.

We also saw the young rookie out of Minnesota continue to grow from his first week. Antoine Winfield Jr. officially announced his Defensive Rookie of the Year candidacy racking up 11 total tackles, including 1 sack and a QB hit! Bowles showed he knows how to extend his resources, rushing and blitzing a lot more than last week. He put Winfield in different looks to make him more influential, and he was exactly that.

Then, there were the interceptions by Carlton Davis III and Jordan Whitehead. Evan Winter of the North & South Podcast said that the Davis pick could have arguably been called the “play of the game.” It was a breath of fresh air to see the secondary finally performing at a high level and committing turnovers. They just need to keep keying in on the play makers and continue to put their offense in great field position.

Lessons yet to be learned

Brady had a mediocre game with 217 yards and 1 TD while he and the receiving corp continued to figure things out. Scotty Miller got more involved taking advantage of Chris Godwin’s absence, but the one who prospered the most is Mike Evans.

Lesson no. 1 - Brady needs to continue to get Evans the ball, but more importantly build chemistry with all of his receivers! Evans’ first touchdown pass from Brady was like they’ve been practicing it forever. A nice throw to Evans’ back side with the corner sitting on top where only he can grab it.

Brady needs the same type of chemistry with all of his receivers. He didn’t prove he had that this week. Any one of his key guys can be out of a game at any time, just as we saw with Godwin. I think there’s real value in knowing your resources, and Brady is undoubtedly the best at doing that.

He talked about improving communication from last week with his receivers, but it didn’t appear he worked on it with anyone other than Evans. All three of the missed touchdown passes were a direct result of that.

Lesson no. 2 - Brady just needs to stop turning the ball over. That’s just the bottom line. Brady only had 1 interception this week, but it was still costly. He threw the pick while attempting a pass to his long-time friend, Rob Gronkowski. Darren Hartwell of Yahoo Sports reports on the missed queue.

It’s only Week 2, and Tom Brady already is among the NFL leaders in ... interceptions?

Brady was looking for fellow ex-Patriot Rob Gronkowski but made a pretty brutal throw, sailing the ball well over his tight end’s head into the hands of Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson.

Whatever the reason was for the miscommunication, those two really need to figure things out. It’s a shame they can’t figure out how to reconnect successfully going into their 10th year together. Now, I may be overreacting, but my gut says Gronk’s early retirement is playing a toll. Gronk may have lost a lot of the sharpness he once had.

Lesson no. 3 - Brady and Leftwich could utilize their tight ends a little more. Now, I’m not the one getting paid to come up with the game plan, so I’m not saying any could’a would’a should’a, but it just seems to be untapped resources at their disposal not being used.

Brate and Gronk didn’t have any receptions, and the only one that went to Gronk was intercepted. Howard only had 1 reception for 11 yards. I had doubts about Howard playing any role coming into this week, but fans seem to remain really high on him. He’ll continues to play a secondary role, and it’s a shame.

Lesson no. 4 - The Bucs had 3 missed opportunities to reach the end zone. In the 1st quarter, Scotty Miller dropped an end zone target (even though they still scored later in that drive). Brady threw a deep ball to Cyril Grayson Jr. in the 3rd quarter, which doinked off of his helmet. The most painful one to watch was a dime in the end zone to @CutonDime25 [LeSean McCoy] on 3rd & 8 in the 4th quarter. The ball flew right through his hands. Even after a beautiful spin move to get open.

Bruce Arians is already nipping it in the bud. He’s making it loud and clear that unsatisfactory performance will not be tolerated. If you get a pass thrown to you, and you continue to drop it, Brady will not be throwing them to you for much longer. That’s the type of bottom line leadership this team has been needing. There’s simply no more time left to screw around.

I actually really like what the coach said in his post game presser about all the missed passes.

I think at times we relaxed and we’re not good enough to relax. Nobody’s good enough in this league to relax, and we talked about it at halftime. ‘We cannot relax.’ We go out, defense gives us a turnover, we turn it right back and it’s a ballgame when we should have put that thing away in the first five minutes of the third quarter.

At the end of the day, if you carve out the 1 INT, the 3 missed passes and the miserable 3rd quarter, the Bucs actually had a solid game. I enjoyed the defense more than I liked the offense still, so I still want to see more from them. I expect to see more, as does everyone else.

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